AUBURN — In late February, the courtside couple strolled through the arena that would soon bear their name. They were there to watch the Auburn basketball team practice in a nearly empty gym, away from cameras and other suits and ties.
They had recently made the largest donation in Auburn athletic history, despite neither husband nor wife having attended Auburn.
As the Tigers’ home was officially renamed Neville Arena on Friday, Bill Neville began and ended his speech with a testimonial: “I love basketball.”
It is now this name that will be attached to the building which opened its doors in 2010 and which has established itself as one of the great assets of the modern university basketball court.
“I really love the two hours of magic and mayhem we’re all creating together in this beautiful arena,” Neville said Friday outside the building.
Bill’s father and grandparents are both Auburn graduates, and he grew up dreaming of becoming the voice of the Auburn Tigers. Although he graduated from Rice University and became a successful software designer, he sits on the board of the Tigers Unlimited Foundation and is a member of the Pat Dye Society, the highest level of donor recognition. from Auburn. The size of the Nevilles’ donation is undisclosed, but members of the Pat Dye Society donated at least $3 million.
He and his wife, Connie, shared a decades-long passion for basketball. When Bill was in college, he told the school coach that he wanted to make the team because it made for an exciting tournament. The coach reviewed the request and came back to Bill with a job: keeping the logbook.
This humbling experience ultimately helped Bill pursue a brief career in play-by-play radio broadcasting. As he called games for a local station in Eufala, “we only had a budget for one headset,” he joked, earning one of many laughs from a crowd of Auburn brass. Friday. Connie sat next to Bill at games, holding the logbook and writing her commentary in color on a clipboard. “I was reading them on air and getting all the credit,” he said.
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Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl, athletic director Allen Greene, university president Jay Gogue and administrator Bob Dumas also spoke at the event. Arena will debut in renowned form on Saturday (noon, SEC Network) when No. 5 Auburn (26-4, 14-3 SEC) hosts South Carolina (18-11, 9-8) trying to clinch a regular SEC solo. season championship. The Tigers have already clinched a share of the title for the fourth time in program history.
“I just want to apologize that it’s going to take us 24 hours to win your first championship,” Pearl said during his brief speech. “I’m sorry about that. And it might take less than that, because gymnastics has a chance tonight.” (No. 6 Auburn faced No. 3 Florida in one of the biggest meetings in program history.)
The Nevilles sit courtside and recently joined the student section, The Jungle, in a basketball game. When Neville kept that logbook that helped him fall in love with the sport, “that book was the only source of truth.” He was responsible for alerting the officials when a player made a foul. He was quiet and reserved when one of his team’s players hit five fouls. When an opponent fouls, Bill was a little more adamant.
“I noticed a lot of the kids in The Jungle maybe had notebooks as kids as well,” he said. “Because I hear a lot of the same things.”
“I learned it’s best not to jump on a referee,” Connie Neville said after the ceremony, “because it pops up all over social media. It takes a lot for me to jump. I guess I came across one of them once.
They will be back in their usual place on Saturday for the final home game of the 2021-22 season. Maybe they’ll find their way back to the jungle.